December 1st, 2010

Driven: Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo

There is something seriously satisfying about seeing numbers increase at a significant rate on a heads-up display, 100kmh…150kmh…200kmh…225kmh…250kmh… BRAKE! That was my experience in the awesomely powerful Alpina B5 Bi-turbo, the M5 for people who like things to be a bit different.

You know the people, they are the ones walking around with the latest HTC phone handset because the iPhone is “for sellouts”. The problem is I am an iPhone user and in this instance I would rather have the HTC handset.

Alpina have been playing with the 5-Series for the last 35 years and are well known for creating a product where opulence meets performance. The opulence comes in the shape of super soft leathers that your body sinks into and an all-round more tailored feel. The new Bi-Turbo offers a more relaxing place to sit than the normal F10, but has enough sporting character to reassure you when you start lugging the two-tonne beast into corners. Features such as a thinner steering wheel than the overly chunky BMW wheels of late and aluminium gear shift buttons instead of paddles all add to the tailored feel of driving an Alpina. With some tuning houses you can be a bit overwhelmed with badging so you are not left in doubt of what you are driving. Thankfully Alpina leaves illuminated door card badging at home and just sticks with a tasteful Alpina badge on the wheel and embossed logos in the headrests. But you never really need to be reminded that you are in an Alpina as you can feel the difference in the set up as soon as the wheels start turning.

A bit of heart surgery is normally how Alpina shake up the feel from normal M-division car. But this new B5 is the first Alpina car that uses the same engine as the upcoming M5. It is the same basic 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine that is currently used in the BMW X5M and X6M. Slight changes have been made to the Honeywell-Garrett turbochargers and the inlet arrangement differs from the BMW product. In Alpina tune the unit produces 500bhp and 516lb ft, where the M5 is expected to have a couple more horses, somewhere in the region of 500-570bhp.

The B5 Bi-Turbo can get from 0-62mph in 4.7sec and onto a blistering unrestricted 191mph. I have no doubt that this is true. When pressing the right pedal hard your back is gently forced into the back of the memory foam like seats and numbers on the speedo started doubling. The incredible torque makes you feel like you are in a leather-lined rocket and the high speed performance and stability is incredibly impressive. If you need to get from one end of an Autobahn to the other with passengers, I recommend the B5 as your weapon of choice.

Instead of opting for a double-clutch transmission like the M5, Alpina have stuck with an eight-speed auto ‘box. Personally I would have preferred a double-clutch box, but I am assured that the auto handles upshifts better and as fast as a DSG. When changing up the auto cuts off the injection of fuel into a cylinder for a fraction of a second, allowing a reduction in torque and thus giving a quicker shift time. When in Sport of Sport+ mode the transmission becomes more rapid and it is left in the hand of the driver to use the buttons to change gear. When in the sportier modes, the box doesn’t change up if it thinks you are a going a bit wild – which is good. When I tested the car on the track and went in for a long right-hander, you wanted to wind out the revs to the max and the car would let you. Other cars with similar trannies would change up halfway through the corner and disrupt the cars balance.

Having shorter springs and different suspension arms to the original F10, the Alpina Bi-Turbo has more camber on the front track and proves that it is more than just a straight line leather-bound rocket ship. You feel the weight when chucking it around but the car grips well and is very poised. If you leave traction control on you will become very used to having it flash at you constantly as it seems to hold the power back throughout the rev range and in the first three gears. If you turn it off be prepared to be quick with the opposite look because the real wheels have a tendency to get loose when things get frisky.

At £70k the Alpina can seem a bit pricey. For that money you get a more exclusive, slightly less dominating but more interesting BMW M5. For the anti-iPhone users it is the perfect car as it is something just as capable as its competitor but that little bit different. What’s more it is available now, whereas people wanting the M5 will have to wait until next year.

Words: Rowan Horncastle

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